Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flashback: He-Man

It's hip right now for people to be nostalgic for things that were awesome when they were kids. I guess that was always the deal, but now that the "cool kids" have moved on to reminisce about the 90's, I'm left with the older generation reminiscing about the 80's.

When I was young, my favorite thing in the world was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I had all the toys in teh first run, I had books, episodes on VHS, the whole nine yards. I was obsessed. So when Netflix put most of the series in their streaming library, I was really excited but still kind of scared.

More than once, I've been bitten by my own nostalgia. My sister and I refer to it as "Eerie Indiana Syndrome" because we both independently rented Eerie, Indiana after remembering how amazing we thought it was when we were kids. Only, it really wasn't very good at all.

Part of me was really afraid that He-Man would be the same, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for something that was so important to little 4-year-old me to be ruined like that. So I hesitated. But I eventually caved when I was up late one night working on something and needed to put on a show for background noise.

I pretty quickly found myself ignoring my work to pay attention to the show. Now, I'm not going to start talking about how He-Man was better than anything we've got on TV today. It's clearly not, it is exactly what you think of it. It's cheesy, it's a glorified toy commercial, and it's every 80's cliche you can find.

But there's something there, underneath all that. There's a reason this show has endured and that it's been brought back at least once. There aren't massive fandoms for a lot of other cartoons from it's time, but it sticks around through something beyond nostalgia.

Basically because it was better than it had any right to be. For me, the draw became the female characters. Who would expect in a show like He-Man to find such strong role models? Maybe that's why they were able to make the women so awesome, who knows. But between The Sorceress, Teela, Evil-Lyn, and Queen Marlena, there are a lot of awesome women. Yes, I include Evil-Lyn because she's a pretty awesome villain.

Queen Marlena is especially amazing. Little girls watching the show didn't necessarily notice it outright, but they were presented with a queen who was not just a great mother and wife, but also an astronaut. Her episode would have aired around the same time that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Later in the show, she has opportunities to fight and even fly her old plane again and she proves she shouldn't be underestimated.

Teela is the Captain of the Royal Guard, and nobody ever makes any mention of her gender or of that being a weird job for her to have. She just is Captain of the Guard and Prince Adam's bodyguard. Even though they play with the love interest angle a little bit for her, because it was a show aimed at such young kids and because the toy company resisted any kind of continuity she was never shunted into a love story.

It doesn't surprise me at all that one of the writers on He-Man was J. Michael Stracyzinski who also wrote Babylon 5. He is a writer who just writes women well, but has never made a big deal out of it or even gotten a ton of praise or recognition for it. If you ever get a chance to listen to his commentary tracks on episodes from He-Man and She-Ra, you really should because it's eye opening and will give you a new appreciation of the show.

Listen, He-Man is still pure 80's at it's heart. The animation is dated and full of rotoscoping and reused footage. Most of the male characters look way too alike so they could use the same molds for the toys (and Teela and Evil-Lyn have the same outfit for the same reason). And yes, it doesn't make any sense at all that people don't realize that Adam is He-Man unless you throw in a little Grayskull magic. But if you're looking for something a little retro to show your kids or you think today's animation isn't up to snuff, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what they think of He-man.

And if you remember it fondly, don't worry, it's safe to watch again. Though you'll find yourself making a lot more off-color jokes than you probably did as a kid.